By Bruce Hyland
For most of her life, Josefina Ahumada knew she was being called to service. Last year, upon retirement from fulltime work at Arizona State University (ASU) Social Work Program, she answered the call to extend beyond social service to offering spiritual guidance when she became a lay pastor for the Presbyterian church on the Tohono O’Odham nation in Sells.
Perhaps only upon looking back on her path through life would it have been obvious that such was her destiny. Her father was a Mexican immigrant and her mother was Native American (her family is from the Southwestern Tigua Pueblo). They did not have an easy time of it, but they maintained their pride and taught Josefina that it is important to know your rights.
Josefina found significant success upon completing her master’s in social work. On graduating from UCLA she moved to Tucson where she worked in behavioral health as a licensed clinical social worker. In 1999 she joined the faculty at Arizona State University School of Social Work-Tucson as the field education coordinator. In 2006 on a voluntary basis she and others at Southside Presbyterian Church formed the Southside Worker Center where day laborers could gather to find employment in a safe site. Subsequently it was this experience that Josefina felt a calling to the ministry.
Nearly 30 years ago Josefina called upon a neighbor to talk about landscaping. Fate stepped in. That neighbor, Helen Battiste, discussed plants with her and eventually discussed marriage. They were together for 22 years before Helen passed. While making the funeral arrangements, Josefina was told that she could not file for the death certificate because Arizona wouldn’t recognize their marriage. (They married in New Mexico.)
Shocked, sad, and angry, she channeled that anger into a social justice campaign becoming one of the plaintiffs in the 2014 landmark case of marriage rights in Arizona and nationally.
The landmark case brought by Lambda Legal, Majors v. Jeanes, struck down Arizona’s discriminatory marriage ban, paving the way for same-sex couples across the state to apply for marriage licenses or to have their legal out-of-state marriages respected. “We won!” Josefina exclaims—Arizona became the 31st freedom to marry state.
“You cannot lose hope that things won’t change. They will. It just may take a long time. I had to wait until I was 68 years old. When things are not right, we have to pull it together and work to fix/improve whatever it is.”
“It’s great being a lesbian in my 70s – being in community, being open and safe. I feel very empowered.” Clearly she’s making a difference. In addition to being the lay pastor, she’s the Moderator for her Presbytery. She’s the first lesbian elected to that position.
She’s fully out and no one cares. “That’s a long way from the way it used to be,” she says. She knew discrimination, verbal abuse and mistreatment earlier in her life.
She remains involved. She’s board chair of the YWCA Southern Arizona, and field instructor for ASU for interns in social work. She urges us to become involved and donate to important causes like EMERGE Center Against Domestic Violence and Senior Pride.
She ends our conversation with, “Thank you to Senior Pride for being visible and present. It’s so important. Keep it up!”